Designer Interview: Maddie and Joe Adams
175 years after the unspeakable war the solar system's vast resources are under the control of the United Federation of the Solar System. The organization set up after the the unspeakable war to run the solar system. Now that there are free and fair elections control of the solar system is up for grabs can your upstart company capture the moment and seize success in this solar system? Solar 175 is the game and Maddie and Joe Adams are the designers. Join me for a conversation with them. Solar 175 is coming to kickstarter in March sign up here to get notified on the start of the campaign.
We are the co-owners of tabletop game publishing company Cogito Ergo Meeple. We design and develop board games which have a wide range of player counts, high quality components and we always add something a little unusual to each game. Our games are first and foremost about the player experience and so high quality gameplay is our absolute priority. To date, we have published two big box games and our latest creation Solar 175 is coming to Kickstarter on the 1st March. Solar 175 is a big box legacy game for 1 to 5 players. It involves deeply strategic euro-style gameplay and is set in a rich and expanding dystopian, sci-fi world.
There is something about sitting down with a tactile item like a board game with real people that is hugely appealing.
What brought you into game design?
We’ve both been interested in games for a long time. We played video games when we were younger but only got introduced to modern tabletop games around 5 years ago. Since then we have been utterly obsessed with them. I think what is so exciting about this modern golden age of tabletop games is that new ideas seem to be emerging all the time and this ancient hobby all of a sudden has a brand new lease of life. We spend so much of our modern lives looking at screens. There is something about sitting down with a tactile item like a board game with real people that is hugely appealing. For us the designing followed naturally from the playing.
What is currently your favorite game to play?
Very hard to answer! I don’t know if it is our favorite but we’ve both recently been loving the newest edition of Great Western Trail by Alexander Pfister. It is such a satisfyingly crunchy game although the amount of analysis paralysis potential with this one is enormous!
What did you find was the most difficult part of the design process?
[Joe] I think the part that we struggled with the most is avoiding feature creep and removing things from the game. We had so many ideas for Solar 175 and it is always easier to add than take away new features. Ultimately the game is better when it is paired down to the absolute best elements which need to work together seamlessly. This meant that some fantastic ideas had to be left on the cutting room floor, which is always hard to do. An example would be, we had a mechanic based around space junk, where the more you travelled around the solar system the more the space junk around planets and moons increased in size and quantity. This created an interesting ‘tragedy of the commons’ type scenario where players all wanted to move but the more they did, the harder movement became for everyone. This was an interesting mechanic and a cool analogy for some of the ecological issues we face today, but gameplay-wise it fell a little flat. As you build up an engine in a board game you want your options to increase and travel to get easier, this does the opposite. For us, the number one aim of our games is to create high quality engaging gameplay so anything that gets in the way of that goal has to go.
From the double thickness player boards to the epic miniatures, we designed all components to complement the game and feel substantial and satisfying.
What part of the game (game play, pieces, etc..) is the most exciting for you?
[Maddie] I think the most exciting aspects of the game are the bag building mechanic and the component quality. When we were designing the game we tried out several different mechanics but they just didn’t feel thematic or engaging enough. When we tried out the bag-building element though, things really came together. Inspired by classic bag building games such as Orleans we loved that players could build their own engine and make interesting and strategic choices. Then there’s the quality of the components. From the double thickness player boards to the epic miniatures, we designed all components to complement the game and feel substantial and satisfying.
How long did it take you from concept to where you are now about to launch a kickstarter campaign?
[Joe] This game has been many years in the making, the longest part of the process has without doubt been the worldbuilding. Solar 175 has been slowly forming in our minds for at least 3 years and we’ve been putting together timelines, histories and cultures into our sci-fi world ever since. This is certainly a long process but it has meant that the gameplay development which started about 2 years ago was great fun, as we had this big rich universe to create our game within. It meant that certain elements of the game design seemed obvious from the beginning. There would need to be a narrative, campaign aspect to the world. The legacy elements came in early on as well to allow players to explore the universe we had created and to feel its huge scope and scale.
What was your favorite part about the design process?
[Maddie] Personally I really enjoyed the playtesting. By that point in the design process, the game felt almost fully formed so it was really satisfying to get feedback and play around with ideas. When an idea you have been playing about with for months suddenly starts to work in a playtest there really is no better feeling!.
Philosophia: Floating World is a game themed in feudal Japan, how did you land on the dystopian future for Solar 175?
[Joe] Although the games are very different in theme there are actually quite a few similarities between the two games and Solar 175 could really be seen as a spiritual successor to our last game. In Solar 175 the biggest city in the solar system is Yurushi which is located where Tokyo is today. As such Japanese influences are spread throughout the world Solar 175, we have lived and worked in Tokyo for over 6 years and so much of the game development of both games was influenced by that great city. Gameplay wise they have a lot in common too. Both are fast paced games with high player interaction. Deckbuilding takes center stage in Floating World and the similar bag-building does so in Solar 175. Both games have a huge emphasis on high quality artwork and components. Floating World features hundreds of digitally remastered ukiyo-e artwork and Solar 175 has equally evocative cyberpunk style paintings which aim to have the same depth of color and narrative as the ukiyo-e style woodblock prints of Edo Japan. Finally, the two games have some interesting ideas at their centre. Floating World allows players to delve into some of the key ideas of eastern philosophy and Solar 175 is certainly also deeply ingrained with some of the same essential ideas and questions.
What was the hardest issue you had to overcome?
[Maddie] As Joe mentioned earlier, we had tons of ideas in the very early stages that we liked for the game but not all made the cut. It was often difficult to let go even though you ultimately knew it was the right thing to do. Refining the game early on was probably the longest and toughest stage but was such an important step to go through in order to make Solar 175 what it is today.
Do you have any advice for up and coming designers?
Yes, submit your ideas to us! We are always looking for new games to publish at Cogito Ergo Meeple! In terms of advice the biggest and most important is don’t put off play-testing. It is such a crucial part of the design process and is so obvious when it is missed out!
What's next for you?
We have lots of new projects coming up in the future, Solar 175 is such a huge sprawling world we would like to see more content based on it and we are always looking for new games to publish! Game design and creation is what we love doing so hopefully the future is much more of the same!
What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?
[Maddie] 'E's not unladen! 'E's passed on! This unladen swallow is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-SWALLOW!!